Imágenes de páginas

destinies in his; the more stirring are the times in which he lives, the more dependent must he be upon the confidence he can inspire in others; and as it is this principle of mutual dependence which binds together the social system of civilised communities, it is as impossible for any one to isolate himself from others in the conduct of affairs during life, as it is afterwards found to separate his personal biography from the history of his times. The power of selection from so large a field of knowledge on one hand, and of obtaining or gathering together sufficient information on the other, constitutes the main difficulty in a work of this kind; above all things it is necessary to preserve as much as possible the chain of personal narrative through the mazes of general history, to accompany the subject of each biography into those scenes in which he is known to have appeared, to tread with him the path he trod, to view with him the prospects he viewed, to share with him the dangers he braved and the triumphs he enjoyed, to become familiar with the knowledge he possessed, and to forget in judging of his judgment those secrets which time has since laid bare for the later instruction of mankind.

The fulfilment of such a task needs patience and research, but can lay no claim to originality, still less, it is to be hoped, to invention. All that can be told of historical characters with truth must have been already said; old MSS. newly read, or books long written more carefully examined, may bring to light that which


was generally unknown, or correct erroneous versions of past events; but new facts belong to the present time, and the best title a biographer can claim for attention or credence is that of a faithful collector and transcriber of the testimony of others.

In treating of the lives of those whose fortunes were interwoven with the civil wars, the truth of Lord Bacon's remark, “ that there is no great action but “ hath some good pen to attend it," is forcibly brought to mind by the writings of Lord Clarendon; and the • History of his Life' affords another happy illustration of Lord Bacon's description of the advantages of biography. “ Lives,” says he,“ if they be well written, “propounding to themselves a person to represent in “ whom actions, both greater and smaller, public “ and private, have a commixture, must of necessity “ contain a true, native, and lively representation.” From the writings of that “good pen ” “ a true and “ lively representation” of many lives, besides his autobiography, has been transmitted, and much has been recorded of those times that but for him would have been lost. His works will remain amongst the most valued stores, on which to draw for information, though with some reserve as to opinions formed under too strong a bias of party and personal feelings to command the implicit assent of posterity. In defence of his integrity as a writer of history, Lord Grenville thus well described the natural influence of contemporaneous events upon the mind of one engaged in the affairs on




which he writes :" When a statesman traces, for the “ instruction of posterity, the living images of the men “and manners of his time, the passions by which he has “ himself been agitated, and the revolutions in which his “ own life and fortunes were involved, the picture will “ doubtless retain a strong impression of the mind, the “ character, and the opinions of its author. But there “ will always be a wide interval between the bias of “ sincere conviction and the dishonesty of intentional “ misrepresentation.”!

Lord Clarendon has been thought guilty of painting in too glowing colours the virtues and merits of his friends; yet his praise is always discriminating, not mere panegyric.

The necessity of gathering information respecting particular persons from his works alone, because no other accounts of them are extant, may perhaps lead the modern reader to feel for their characters an admiration too little tempered with blame; it must, however, be remembered that it was the hand of a contemporary that shrouded their faults from view. An attempt to tear away the veil that friendship has thrown over errors and imperfections, and to supply them from the writer's imagination, would now be a task as unavailing as unpleasing.

| Lord Grenville adds to this passage, “ Clarendon was unquestionably a “ lover of truth and a sincere friend to the free constitution of his country.” -Preface to · The Earl of Chatham's Letters to his Nephew.'

Biography can only recount what is known, or has been said. A scrupulous and praiseworthy research for accurate knowledge, or possibly even a less worthy motive, the love of detraction, might inspire the wish to bring to light every hidden failing of disposition or fault in conduct in historical characters; but, if such have been concealed at the time, or been left unrecorded, whether from kindness or from policy, nothing will be added by mere conjecture or invention to that truth which every reader of history should desire and seek.

[graphic][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][subsumed][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]




« AnteriorContinuar »